Size matters: Smaller classes spark better learning
Monday, June 09, 2014
The move to reduce class size and bring about higher-quality education is a not new one, but it has gained new momentum with a new study.
Research by Australian educator David Zyngier shows that there can be significant difference in student performance with a smaller class size. Zyngier analyzed 112 peer-reviewed studies from 1979-2014 to prove how the size of the class can narrow the achievement gap.
Proponents of the cause have pointed out time and again how reduction of the class size can enable teachers to give more instructional time to each individual student. In the last decade, schools across the country have been encouraged to reduce their class size under the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA) as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
This has been one of the major federally-supported school improvement strategies of recent times and was expected to bring far reaching changes in the education system. Unfortunately, recession and tighter budgets did not lead to an increase of staff as envisioned, and the program did not see as much success as was intended.
For education to make a difference in children's lives, students' personal and learning needs should be met effectively in a classroom environment. With smaller classes, teachers can be less occupied with maintaining discipline, and can instead focus on the individual growth of their students.
Many, like the Washington state education officials, feel that reducing class size is the key element in improving student learning and improving graduation rates. But more than that, they think the smaller size will finally bring an equal instructional measure for students who need more time, help and investment from their teachers.
The Washington teacher union's new class size reduction initiative, I-1351 proposes no more than 17 students per class in grades K-3. What the state has to figure out is how to create the revenue base to fund this initiative. Smaller class size will need more teachers and teaching aids, and that changes a budget figure of $1.38 billion in 2015-17 to $3.4 billion in 2017-19.
Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach's study, "Does Class Size Matter?", shows that a smaller class has long-term impact on a student. Teachers can see immediate results in the way they perform in their day-to-day tasks, their assessments and test scores.
But quality attention from teachers actually helps shape their characters and helps them achieve broader life outcomes as well. The study also stressed how smaller classes can help raise the achievement levels of low-income and minority children who face even more challenges with over populated and meagerly-funded schools.
Federal, state and private funding for education does not come easily and is dependent on many factors — the most important of which is a school's academic and all-around achievements. If reducing the class size can improve overall performance, then maybe it's time for schools to reconsider the allocation of their funds and investing them in hiring more teachers in the future.
If the 2020 goal for optimum number of graduates is to be met, then strategic decisions like a smaller class size and quality attention to each student are imperative.
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